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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Texas Senator Ted Cruz; Hearing Signals Or Something Else?; Flight 370 Families Hold Candlelight Vigil

Aired April 7, 2014 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Let's bring in Peter Brookes. He's a former deputy assistant secretary of defense, currently a senior fellow for national security affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

Peter, good to see you as always.

PETER BROOKES, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Yes.

TAPPER: So, Peter, Ukraine's acting president is calling this "the second wave of Russia's special operation against Ukraine, aimed at destabilization, toppling the current government, thwarting elections and tearing the country apart," close quote. How significant do you think this development is?

BROOKES: I think he summed it up pretty well. I mean, everybody's been waiting for the other shoe to drop. I mean, this was predictable. In some ways, we've seen this movie in Crimea, and it may have the same ending in Eastern Ukraine.

TAPPER: "Wall Street Journal" characterized the seizure of the regional government headquarters as quote, "the most serious unrest there in the past month." Is that right?

BROOKES: I think that's right. I mean, it's been very quiet. The Ukrainians have been very restrained in terms of violence. We haven't seen the Russians operating there. So, I think that's accurate.

TAPPER: White House press secretary Jay Carney said they believe, quote, "outside forces were participating in these protests," meaning that they are not locals, even suggesting that some of these demonstrators may be paid. Do you think that's likely and, if so, what else would Russia do beyond that?

BROOKES: Well, I think it is very likely. I love the terminology. Saboteurs, provocateurs, it's very Cold War-esque, right? Natasha and Boris sort of thing. But I believe there are Russian agents of influence there, certainly within that part of the country. And then probably some of the SPRR, which is Russian's foreign intelligence services operating there.

What they are trying to do is set up the same scenario that they had in the Ukraine. Putin can say to the world, these people want to be liberated, they don't want to be part of Ukraine anymore. But what I really think the bigger game is here, it's all a negotiation. If Russia gets what they want out of Kiev, they may not go into Ukraine -- eastern Ukraine or try to take eastern Ukraine into Russia. So with these elections coming up, this is really part of a negotiating. Crimea and eastern Ukraine is a negotiating chip for the Russians in getting what they want, making sure it's in their sphere of influence.

TAPPER: Assuming that theory is right, that they don't actually want to seize eastern Ukraine, they just want that as a chip that they can cash in for something else, what is the Russian's end game here?

BROOKES: Well, I think it's having them in a sphere of influence. Having complete influence over Kiev, making sure that the natural gas can flow, make sure there's no security challenge to them. They had Yanukovych, and they felt very comfortable. They don't feel so comfortable anymore now that he is gone. They've got to make sure that somebody in there is not going to undermine Russia's interests, especially since Ukraine is on the soft, strategic underbelly of Russia.

TAPPER: Indeed. All right. Peter Brookes, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Coming up, a Chinese boat supposedly detects a signal in the water on what may have been the very last day of battery life. A last-minute stroke of good luck or a red herring?

Plus, he slams his own party's immigration reform plans as amnesty. So how will Republican Senator Ted Cruz react after one of his potential 2016 rivals described illegal immigration as, quote, an act of love? The senator joins us after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The Politics Lead now. He says it's not a felony but an act of love. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, whose name is rarely uttered in the media these days without a tagline about his possible White House ambitions was speaking at an event celebrating the 25th anniversary of his father's presidency when he made a comment that even he conceded was sure to make headlines about people who immigrate to the United States illegally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony. It's kind of -- it's a -- it's an act of love. It's an act of commitment to your family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Of course, Jeb Bush was talking there about wanting to earn a living for your family. Let's bring in Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, who's also no stranger to 2016 speculation. Senator, what is your reaction? I've heard a lot of conservatives criticizing these comments from Jeb Bush.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Well, look. I'm a big fan of Jeb Bush's . He's from Florida. I'm from Texas. We both are states that have dealt with a lot of immigration. And there's no doubt that immigrants come to this country because they are seeking a better world, they are seeking the American dream and a better life for their kids. And all of that is positive and beneficial.

What isn't positive and beneficial is breaking the law to do so, and --

TAPPER: He said it's not a felony.

CRUZ: Well, look, in my view, we need to be a nation that welcomes and celebrates legal immigrants, people who follow the rules and come here according to the law. That we're a nation of immigrants, we need to celebrate that.

But at the same time, rule of law matters. And if you look at any sovereign nation, securing your border is critically important. And I'll tell you one of the big reasons has to do with just the humanity of it. If you come down to Texas and you see the conditions where you see photographs that are heartbreaking of bodies, of women and children left abandoned in the desert because they entrust themselves to trans-national global criminal cartels who smuggle them in, who assault them, who leave them to die, this is not a humane system. And we need to solve the problem to secure the borders, and then improve and streamline legal immigration so people can come to America consistent with the rule of law.

TAPPER: Bush says he'll make a decision about running by the end of the year. There are, as you know, there are a lot of people in the fundraising arm of the Republican Party, a lot of Republican officials in Washington, D.C., who are looking for a white knight, somebody who will lead the party to the White House in 2016. They were looking at Chris Christie; now a lot of them are talking about Jeb Bush. Is there a disconnect between those people in the Republican Party and the grassroots?

CRUZ: Well, listen, I like Jeb Bush. I like Chris Christie. I respect them both.

TAPPER: Sure. But I'm talking about these forces who --

CRUZ: I do think that there are folks in Washington who want to pick the party's nominee, and they inevitably want to pick a nominee who they think won't rock the boat. And in my view, from the perspective of a Republican who believes we need to win and we need to win because the country is on the wrong path, because we're facing enormous fiscal and economic challenges, I think the only way Republicans win is to have a candidate with a strong conservative with a positive, hopeful, optimistic message. That's the path to victory.

And I don't think Washington elites are going to be very effective picking the nominee. I think it's going to be, quite rightly, a decision for the grassroots to make.

TAPPER: Is Jeb Bush a strong conservative, do you think?

CRUZ: You know, look, that's a question for the voters to say. There are many things that I admired about his 10 years as governor of Florida. I think on education he showed real courage. But you know, we have a political process where candidates, if they choose to run, can go out and campaign on their vision for America. It's my hope everyone thinking of potentially running in 2016 will stand up and lead, will start making the argument, start effectively leading and making the case that we've got to get back to the free market principles, the constitutional liberties that have made our nation so strong.

TAPPER: I want to talk about something that took place in your home state last week, and that's the tragedy at Fort Hood. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno was asked if soldiers on base should now be armed, should be allowed to carry weapons? He said no, it should be left to military police.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. RAY ODIERNO, ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: Although we carry arms quite regularly overseas while we're deployed and on a regular basis, I believe back here in the United States, it's more appropriate that we leave it to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you think?

CRUZ: I certainly appreciate the general's views on that. I think it's time to have more of a conversation on this. I think the Armed Services Committee in the Senate ought to have a hearing addressing the pros and cons of this issue. I think these shootings certainly raise that question.

But I'll tell you, I was down in Fort Hood just a couple of days ago, was visiting with the soldiers who were wounded, with their families. And I think it's premature to have those policy discussions. We need to be right now lifting them up in prayer, remembering them.

I've got to tell you, Jake, it's inspirational. I had a chance to visit with one young soldier who was shot twice, was recuperating, was there with his fiancee, with his mother, with sister. And in the hospital, when I came in with General Miley, the commanding general at Fort Hood, this young soldier noticed the general had an Army Ranger patch on his uniform. He said, "I want to be an Army Ranger. General, can you help me?" Forty-eight hours after getting shot, this young soldier is interested in going to ranger school and standing up and fighting for this country. I mean, that's the spirit of America.

TAPPER: That's the guys we have -- guys and girls representing us.

You're introducing - or you've introduced legislation that "The Washington Post" says it's likely to pass. It would prevent known terrorists from obtaining visas to enter the United States, specifically targeted at Iran's nominee to the United Nation's ambassador who was involved in the hostage crisis and taking hostages in Tehran in 1979, 1980. It looks like it's going to pass. But I guess to play devil's advocate here - obviously, I don't like this gentleman or what he did. But to play devil's advocate, isn't the whole point of the U.N. that countries get to send people who they want to send? I mean, Ahmadinejad, Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, all of these people were allowed to go and address the U.N. -- Hugo Chavez.

CRUZ: Not without limit. The people you named are heads of state. In this instance, Iran has named Hamid Aboutalebi to be their U.N. ambassador, and he's a known terrorist. He participated in holding Americans hostages for 344 days. Now listen, their naming him was a deliberate slap in the face. It was intended to be contemptuous to America. And right now, the statute for denying a visa says that for a U.N. ambassador, you can deny a visa if they have committed espionage and pose a national security threat.

Now the problem with this individual, although he clearly pose as national security threat as an acknowledged terrorist, there's no evidence he committed espionage. What the legislation I've introduced does is change the word "and" to "or." Which means it would give the administration the authority to deny him a visa.

You know, under the existing statute, if the Taliban in Afghanistan had nominated Osama bin Laden to be its ambassador in the U.N., the existing statute would say we'd have to let him in, give him a visa and let him move to Manhattan. Now that's obviously absurd.

And I will say that I'm encouraged. It hasn't passed yet, but the indications are we're getting bipartisan cooperation. Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Pat Leahy, Senator Bob Menendez, all Democrats have been working with us. And I am hopeful, I'm optimistic, that we're going to see the Senate act in a bipartisan manner to protect our national security, which is exactly how we should act on matters dealing with the critical safety of this country.

TAPPER: Senator Ted Cruz, we always enjoy you coming by and sharing your views. Thank you so much.

CRUZ: Thank you.

TAPPER: Search teams now chasing pulses. Could the pings have actually come from inside the Chinese ship that reported them? A look at why we should proceed with caution, next.

And families were told all hope is lost. Now Malaysia's transport minister says miracles do happen. How much more can they take? We'll go live to Beijing as families react to these new leads, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing our "World Lead," and new hope for finding missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. On the day the batteries on the beacons were expected to run out, a Chinese ship picks up pings that could be coming from the black boxes. This time of this new lead is only adding to the drama of the story, but with one lead after the next not leading to anything, but more questions and more frustration, could this be another false alarm? Our Athena Jones is live with more on that.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake. Well, this investigation is already more than a month old and as you've said earlier in the show, there haven't been a whole lot of truly credible leads. And so the international search team has to look very, very closely at what the signals that have been picked up by these two countries, Australia and China. Here is what we can tell you about what that first team, the one on the Chinese ship found.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANGUS HOUSTON, AUSTRALIAN JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER CHIEF: This is an important and encouraging lead, but one in which I urge you to continue to treat carefully.

JONES (voice-over): Words of warning over the weekend from Angus Houston, the head of about a possible break through from this Chinese crew, which used a hydrophone for what could be the black boxes. With this breakthrough coming on the very last day of battery life, is it too good to be true?

MICHAEL KAY, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: What I find still odd is the fact that we don't have an associated debris field. You don't have smoke without fire. We've never had a crash investigation where black boxes were found without debris.

JONES: Indeed questions about the fleeting signals the Chinese picked up remain. For instance, how could a relatively rudimentary detector, this one costing no more than $16,000, pick up pulses potentially miles deep? It's technically possible but not likely says the company that makes the detector.

THOMAS ALTSHULER, TELEDYNE TECHNOLOGIES: It would be right at the edge of the detection limit of that he signals are the right frequency but the ocean is noisy and the Chinese team wasn't operating in ideal conditions. Using ear buds instead of more reliable headsets to listen for the pulses. The team was also traveling with a spare pinger on board, which could have been emitting a signal of its own.

And the Chinese said they did not have time to record the pulses, making a scientific analysis impossible. One thing is certain, China is eager to show it is working on behalf of the 154 Chinese citizens on board Flight 370.

BONNIE GLASER, SENIOR ADVISER FOR ASIA, CSUS: The Chinese government wants to be seen domestically by its own people of doing its upmost to find out what happened to this plane to give closure to their families.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: And that last point there is what all of the experts that I've spoken with today stressed to me. Whatever doubts people might have about the strength of the evidence that China has provided when it comes to these pulses or pings, whatever conspiracy theories that may be out there, it's in China's interest to do everything that it can to find these pings. That's what they say China is doing here.

TAPPER: Athena, how is it that the Chinese were searching in these areas?

JONES: That's the million dollar question. It's quite a coincident that even though the search area has been narrowed down quite a bit that they should be somewhere close enough to detect the pings. And this expert said we don't know all that is going on among the U.S. And Chinese and Malaysians, there certainly could be communications that we don't know about. What this man said to me is that it's, quote, quite inconceivable that this ship should be deployed and should detect these pings without any other information. So it's very likely that they were working on information from that provider.

TAPPER: Right. And we also don't know all of the surveillance equipment that the Chinese, the Australians, the U.S. might be using. Athena Jones, thank you so much.

Wolf Blitzer is here with preview of "THE SITUATION ROOM." You're speaking with someone involved in the search?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": The Navy commander, William Marks is going to join us live. You know, t's one thing if Malaysia says they are optimistic and then Australia and when the U.S. Navy says they are cautiously optimistic that they have located the two black boxes and they have said that, we'll get the latest from Commander Marks.

TAPPER: Coming up, it's been an agonizing month in limbo for the families on board Flight 370. How they are reacting to these new signals coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing our world lead. Families held a vigil in Beijing marking one month since the plane carrying their loved ones vanished into thin air. Some are holding on to the slim hope that their loved ones are still alive.

CNN's David McKenzie is live in Beijing with more. David, 154 of the 239 people aboard the flight were Chinese. Is it fair to say that many of their relatives are so fed up with the Malaysian government's handling of the investigation that they are not even sure what to believe anymore?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Jake. They don't know what to believe. They've had so many twists and turns in the story and so many leads that were then dashed, hopes that were dashed that they are just numb at this point and often go through all sorts of emotions. There is a vigil going on through the night and some family members don't know what to think.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE WANG, MOTHER ABOARD FLIGHT 370: Time has passed and we are just going through so many, many kinds of emotions. So we were thinking about what to do now. I think it's to keep on waiting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCKENZIE: Well, certainly the waiting has gone on for 31 days. Many of the family members stuck in this hotel behind me, Jake, and they just don't know what to think. Each piece of information is coming from Malaysian authorities sometimes is confused and conflicted. At this point, the anger has dissipated and now it's just not knowing what to think, as I said, and trying to get some kind of concrete evidence so they can start the process of closure -- Jake.

TAPPER: David McKenzie, thank you. Of course, those mixed messages of the transport minister say miracles do happen. That can't help either for the surviving family. Don't miss a special edition of THE LEAD at 9:00 p.m. Eastern starting tonight all this week.

And now I will turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Jake Tapper. Thanks for watching THE LEAD.

BLITZER: Jake, thanks very much happening now.